On the surface, Shirley Ballas appears to have it all: one of the best jobs in showbiz, a loving partner and a killer figure.
But, behind the glitz and glamour, there was a time not too long ago when Shirley felt life wasn’t worth living anymore. After discovering her beloved mum Audrey had been diagnosed with cancer back in 2018 – a year after Shirley joined Strictly – the star, 60, has admitted that, despite her rising stardom and success, she wanted to ‘die with her’.
But meeting her boyfriend, 46-year-old West End actor Danny Taylor, later that year changed everything. ‘He’s a hands-on boyfriend, and I’ve never experienced that before,’ she’s said.
So just how did Shirley overcome her darkest days?
Shirley is extremely close to her mum, Audrey, and moved from the US back to London to care for her when she was diagnosed with cancer at 81. Audrey’s chosen not to have chemo, but Shirley said, ‘I’m just grateful to God that my mother is still here at 83. I always felt that life wasn’t really worth living if I didn’t have her. I have a son in California [Mark, 33] who is very successful, and we chat, but it’s not like he needs me on a daily basis.’ She added, ‘I was starting to think when my mother got the cancer, “I want to go with you”.’
The admission is all the more heartbreaking considering Shirley’s older brother David took his own life in December, 17 years ago, aged just 44, about which Shirley feels eternally guilty. ‘[I feel] one hundred per cent responsible,’ she said. ‘I didn’t have the right emotional tools and I didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t go to see him because I didn’t realise how depressed he was. I should have stopped everything I was doing. I’ve lived with his suicide for 17 years. People tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t. It’s constantly somewhere at the front of my mind.’
Losing David brought Shirley and her mum closer, and Shirley is thinking about him now more than ever. ‘It was in the Christmas period that David died, so as we run up to it, I normally find my mood changing,’ she previously admitted. ‘When I start to feel like I’m going into a solemn place, I try to relive the good times. Fortunately, I have my mum to talk to.’
It’s understandable that the thought of losing Audrey is unbearable. And lockdown has been especially tough for Shirley, as her mum chose to isolate alone. ‘You worry about your parents when they are in their 80s,’ Shirley explained.
Something that has given Shirley a new lease of life is having met boyfriend Danny while doing panto during Christmas 2018.
Shirley credits Danny – 13 years her junior – with helping her overcome the trauma of past relationships. Speaking of her ex-husband Corky Ballas, she alleged, ‘He’d say, “You’re too fat. What’s that mole on your chin? You need a nose job. Your breasts are too small.” I had breast implants done to try to save my marriage. It was the sorriest day of my life. Then I met Danny and it all changed,’ she gushed.
Shirley had her breast implants removed last year after discovering that it would be impossible to detect cancer cells behind them. ‘I had scars all up [my chest],’ she said. ‘But he said they were like two little smiley faces. I didn’t look at it like that, I saw a scarred body. He has a positive take.’
She adds, ‘[Danny] says, “I love everything about you.” But, such unconditional love was hard to take in.
‘With Corky, I had always gone to bed in full make-up. Danny peels my eyelashes off one at a time. I lift my face to him so he can do that.’
She added, ‘He had one of those wipey things and he took all my make-up off and he goes, “There she is. That’s the girl I’m falling in love with.”’
Shirley added, ‘With that simple gesture he began to undo years of damage that I had stored inside me.’